Hamas' 7 October attack on Israel has thrust Iran into the limelight as well due to its history of support for Hamas, broader geopolitical agendas and perhaps most importantly, bitter relationship with the state of Israel.
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, were quick to deny any involvement in the attacks. The US and Israeli intelligence have so far found nothing concrete linking Tehran directly to the attacks but that has not stopped speculations from running wild.
Did Iran actually have any role in the latest attacks, or are they being intentionally portrayed as the boogeyman by the Western media? How much of a threat do they really pose to Israel and what is the state of their controversial nuclear programme?
A history of bad blood
It's difficult to imagine now, but at one point in time, Israel and Iran maintained close ties. Iran was the second Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel as a sovereign state. Israel viewed Iran as a natural ally as a non-Arab power on the edge of the Arab world.
However, following the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Iran adopted a sharp anti-Israel stance. Iran severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel, and its government, to date, does not recognise the legitimacy of Israel as a state.
This hostility further grew as Iran started providing covert support to Hezbollah during the South Lebanon conflict from 1985 to 2000. By 2005, this conflict had evolved into what many experts call a proxy regional conflict.
In 2006, Iran played a significant role in supporting Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War. At the same time, they also started providing support to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), particularly in the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, Israel launched a campaign aimed at disrupting the Iranian nuclear programme by utilising various anti-regime militias operating within Iran. Upon the onset of the Syrian Civil War, the conflict escalated and, by 2018, had turned into direct Iranian-Israeli warfare.
Israel has been involved in supporting and carrying out targeted assassinations and attacks against Iranian targets. Israel has engaged in cyber warfare against Iran and has openly expressed support for international military intervention against Iran.
Israel has accused Iran of trying to establish a continuous land transport route from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Israel perceives this as a major strategic threat.
Potential Iranian involvement
"Iran has clearly been a supporter of Hamas financially, materially and politically. But we don't know the extent to which Iran was involved in the logistical operational part of this training or what kind of logistical support it offered the 7 October operation," Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the DC-based Middle East Institute, told CNN.
There is little to no evidence linking directly to the attacks; in fact, US intelligence sources report that senior Iranian government officials were caught by surprise by the attack on Israel by Hamas.
However, the fact remains that Iran has been Hamas' primary benefactor for years. Providing Hamas with funds and weaponry on top of technical support, Hamas also relies heavily on extensive Iranian material support, especially in building its missile arsenal.
In the past decade or so, Hamas, a Sunni Muslim group, has become an integral part of Iran's broader network of Shia militias. This integration has been facilitated through close coordination with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But Hamas and Tehran have not seen eye-to-eye in the recent past. The Syrian civil war involved a conflict between Assad and his allies, who were primarily members of the minority Alawite and Shia branches of Islam, and an opposition movement primarily composed of Sunni Muslims, who belong to the dominant branch of Islam. Hamas is a Sunni organisation, and Iran is a Shia nation.
Since the Syrian civil war has largely cooled off, experts believe their relations have warmed up, but to what extent is still unclear. One thing is clear: Iran helped Hamas become what it is today, so even without any direct involvement, Iran can't wash their hands of this conflict.
Is an Israel-Iran war on the cards?
On 15 October Iran issued a public ultimatum to its rival Israel. "Halt your onslaught on Gaza, or we'll be forced to take action," its foreign minister warned. Only for their UN mission to take a much softer tone just a few hours later and promise the rest of the world that its armed forces wouldn't intervene in the conflict unless Israel attacked Iranian interests or citizens.
Although their biggest ally, the United States, stated they haven't found any direct Iranian involvement in the 7 October attacks, Israeli officials have been more willing to attribute direct knowledge of the attacks to Iran.
A senior Israeli official told CNN's Matthew Chance that Iran, which has provided longstanding funding and training to Hamas militants, may not have known about the exact timing of the raids from Gaza but was certainly "aware of the Hamas operation before it happened."
Sitting on the sidelines might be detrimental to Iran's long-term plans for regional dominance. However, any significant attack on Israel, which is backed by the United States, could result in severe consequences for Iran.
Not to mention, it will be an unpopular war back home, considering the nation's current economic crisis. The death of a young woman while in police custody last year and the government's continued crackdown on dissent have sparked months of unrest in the country.
Many Iranians have begun to criticise the Islamic Republic's decades-long policy of funnelling funds to its proxies to expand its influence in the Middle East as a direct cause of the country's current economic woes, which are primarily the result of crippling US sanctions and mismanagement.
The lack of action by Iran on the ground can undermine Iran's standing in the Middle East, as they have long been advocates for the Palestinian cause. This may also be interpreted as a sign of weakness by their proxy forces.
Over the past three decades, Iran has built up a network of armed proxy groups across the Middle East, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, not to mention Hamas and their allied group Islamic Jihad in Palestine. These forces have been Tehran's main tool for exerting influence in the region for many years.
But experts agree that while Iran is wary of being dragged into the Israel-Hamas war, it may not be in full control if the militias it backs in the region independently intervene as Hamas suffers heavy blows and the death toll in Gaza continues to mount.
What does this mean for Iran's nuclear programme?
Iran has some powerful enemies and thus maintains a nuclear programme as a potential deterrent despite facing heavy economic sanctions. However, Iran has recently made efforts to reduce its accumulation of near-weapon-grade uranium to alleviate tensions with the United States.
According to UN nuclear watchdog reports, Iran has reduced the rate at which it is making uranium enriched up to 60% purity, close to the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade and has diluted a small fraction of its 60% stockpile.
Uranium enriched to more than 20% is defined as highly enriched uranium (HEU). All HEU is weapons-usable, but the lower the enrichment level, the greater the amount of material required to achieve a critical mass—the amount of material required to build a bomb.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) theoretical definition, Iran now has nearly enough uranium enriched to 60% to make three nuclear bombs. It also has enough low-enriched uranium to make even more bombs.
That being said, just weeks before the war in Gaza broke out, Iran reached an understanding for broader talks with the United States, the result of which was Iran's willingness to decrease enriched uranium in exchange for economic relief in the form of unfreezing Iranian funds around the world.
Furthermore, these developments led to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly giving his blessing in September to the Iranian nuclear negotiation team to meet directly with their US counterparts in Oman.
"The slowdown of the 60% accumulation is a clear sign Tehran is open to advancing the de-escalatory 'understandings' with Washington," said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in an interview with Reuters a few days before the Israel-Hamas war broke out.
Now, it remains to be seen whether Iran is on that path or whether this conflict leads to them changing course.